Inhibition of endoplasmic-reticulum-stress-mediated autophagy enhances the effectiveness of chemotherapeutics on pancreatic cancer

Prakash C. Thakur, Jennifer L. Miller-Ocuin, Khanh Nguyen, Rina Matsuda, Aatur D. Singhi, Herbert J. Zeh, Nathan Bahary

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Background: Endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress and its consequent unfolded protein response (UPR) are believed to be associated with progression, survival and chemoresistance of a variety of tumor cells through multiple cellular processes, including autophagy. Therefore, the ER stress-autophagy pathway presents a potential molecular target for therapeutic intervention. The objective of this study was to evaluate the therapeutic efficacy of ER stress and autophagy modulators in the context of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC). Methods: We first targeted IRE1α, an important regulator of the UPR, through STF-083010 treatment in PDAC cell lines in vitro. Chloroquine was then used to target autophagy and an optimal combination treatment was developed using chloroquine, sunitinib and gemcitabine. Apoptosis was analyzed using TUNEL assay, autophagy was estimated using lysotracker staining and electron microscopy, and UPR was analyzed using anti-GRP78 immunostaining and XBP1 splicing. Transplantation of PDAC derived KPCP1 and Panc02 cells in mouse pancreas were performed to study treatment efficacy in vivo. Results: Suppression of the IRE1α by STF-083010 alone resulted in increased lysosomes and reduced viability of PDAC cells. Chloroquine treatment alone inhibited downstream autophagy but was insufficient in reducing PDAC cell growth. However, combining STF-083010 and chloroquine had additive anti-tumor efficacy when used with gemcitabine. Sunitinib alone caused abnormal maturation of the autolysosomes with increased intracellular multivesicular bodies and increased apoptosis evident in PDAC cells. Sunitinib showed a synergistic effect with chloroquine in reducing in vitro PDAC cell viability and significantly increased the efficacy of gemcitabine in human and murine PDAC cell lines. The anti-proliferative effect of gemcitabine was significantly increased when used in combination with sunitinib and/or chloroquine in both in vitro and in vivo PDAC models. The addition of sunitinib and/or chloroquine to gemcitabine, resulted in a significantly increased survival of the animals without noticeably increased toxicity. Sunitinib, gemcitabine and chloroquine treated mice showed a significant reduction of GRP78 expression, reduced cell proliferation and increased apoptosis in pancreas, compatible with a tumor response. Conclusions: Sunitinib combined with chloroquine reduces tumor growth through suppression of autophagy and increased apoptosis. Co-administration of modulators of ER stress-mediated autophagy with chemotherapy presents a novel therapeutic approach in PDAC.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number190
JournalJournal of Translational Medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 9 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Autophagy
  • ER stress
  • PDAC
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • UPR

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


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